On Wednesday 28 Sivan the chareidi MKs, all together, staged
a very loud and disruptive protest in the Knesset plenum. It
was not behavior that is natural to many of them, but it was
the expression of a year of frustration as the basic human
issues that affect the religious public are not even
addressed by the government, despite months and months of
repeated letters, requests and even meetings discussing the
issues. All the normal avenues that are available to public
figures had been pursued. The response was not overt
rejection or denial -- which is not really even possible in
some of the cases since the obligations are clear -- but just
vague promises or even less.
The issue that the protest focused on was the fact that a
group of government employees, the staff of the religions
councils, has not been paid for more than seven months. These
are people who are on the government payroll, but the
government at all levels has refused to accept responsibility
for them. They used to be considered employees of the
Religions Ministry, but since that was dissolved they have
not been fired but have not been paid either.
The relationship that the religious community has had with
the Israeli government has never been normal, and it has
gotten much worse under the current Shinui dominated Likud
government. A clear example is the NIS 32 million for the
yeshiva budgets that was finally restored last week.
According to analyst Yaakov Rivlin, the origin of that money
was in a cut that the Finance Ministry made last year in the
budget for yeshivas in anticipation of fraud that they never
Last year, in a recurring effort to uncover "widespread
fraud" that they are sure exists in the yeshiva requests from
the government, the Finance Ministry set up a new system
involving four different accounting firms (and costing
millions of shekels) to monitor the yeshivas student rolls
and to ensure that all the students reported are legitimate.
In anticipation of the results, and before any actual false
reporting had been found, the Finance Ministry lowered the
yeshiva budgets by an amount that assumed that they would
find ten thousand fictitious yeshiva students!
Of course such behavior violates all norms of reasonable
behavior and administrative due process, but since the
chareidim are outside the government such considerations mean
After the audit was carried out, they found less than a
thousand problematic names, and most of these were found to
be nothing more than technical errors.
If you thought that the government would just restore the
money that the bureaucrats cut earlier without any
authorization, you do not understand how the government deals
The government did agree to put back the money in last year's
budget, but only as an unofficial loan from this year's
budget. If the chareidi MKs did not manage to have the NIS 32
million approved out of last year's budget, the yeshivas
would have to "repay" the money with a cut in the current
budget. If you are beginning to grasp the Finance Ministry's
techniques, then you probably already realize that such a cut
would not be automatically restored in the following year,
but rather the reduced budget would most certainly become the
basis for all allocations in subsequent years.
Approval of the NIS 32 million was held up for almost half a
year by tricks and delays, and when it was finally approved,
the Shinui MK most involved became a media hero by
threatening to sue in court to stop the payment.
It is not just the people of Shinui, who are proud and vocal
in their hatred for the Jewish religion, who are responsible
for this (and the example we gave is just one among many).
The current Likud leadership allows Shinui to carry on and to
make many demands. Sharon and Netanyahu each deny that they
are partners to the anti-religious policies and each points a
finger at the other as being the culprit. We say: They are
both right -- both are responsible.
One should not forget the NRP government partners. Some of
their supporters said it was important for them to join
Shinui to look out for religious interests. But since then we
have only seen them acquiesce to one anti-religious move
after another. It is not for us to determine how well they
are guarding "National" interests. But we can say that
"Religious" interests have not been served well.
The chareidi MKs are certainly deserving of our support and
encouragement to continue their protests until the government
comes to its Jewish senses.